Report: Colm McDonald
Photographs: Bert Trowlen
U16A Football league final
St. Gall’s 3-17 St. James Aldergrove 3-10
St Galls clinched the U16 ‘A’ championship in dramatic fashion on a cold and wet Saturday evening in Musgrave Park. With Aldergrove leading by 7 points at half time no one could have believed that by the time the final whistle blew that that margin would have been reversed.
With only 13 seconds on the clock Aldergrove captain Aaron O’Connor was wheeling away in celebration after scoring the game’s opening goal. Straight from the throw-in midfielder Eoin Hamill broke the ball to his captain who at ease raced through the middle of the St Galls defence to put the ball past Louis McCormick in the St Galls goal.
St Galls had the opportunity to level the game with less than two minutes gone but were unable to make their chance count and instead found themselves further behind when Ryan McCarthy split the post to make it 1-1 to no score after 3 minutes. Aldergrove were unlucky not to find the net again in the 5th minute after a fierce shot from Conor Adams beat the keeper only to be stopped by Adam Churchill on the St Galls line.
St Galls were given a lifeline as Dubhaltach Wilson bore down on the Aldergrove goal and was fouled by Aidan Douglas and referee Brendan Toland stretched out his arms for a St Galls penalty. Sean Stewart stepped up but he drove his penalty against the crossbar and as David Aiken broke out of the defence with the ball the opportunity had passed.
St Galls had to wait until the 11th minute to get their opening score and it came from the boot of Odhrán McDonald who received the ball from Dubhaltach Wilson who seemed to be St Galls main threat. From the resulting kick-out Connla Maguire rose highest to catch the ball cleanly and he drove forward to score St Galls second point from distance.
Aldergroves pressure would continue and with 13 minutes gone Michael Blaney got his first score of the game following a foul on Ryan McCarty he put the resulting free over from 20 meters.
St Galls were finding it hard to break through a very tough Aldergrove back line with great pressure being applied by Eoin Gough and Conor Ferguson they decided to shoot from distance and points from Niall Fallon and another from Eoin Burke made the score 1-2 to 0-4.
The South Antrim champions were starting to get back into the game and with 18 minutes gone Odhrán McDonald had a great opportunity to put them in front for the first time but he found Rory McBriar in great form and when one on one it was McBriar who came out on top with a first class save. That save brought life back into a tiring side and as Aldergrove dug deep and got their second wind they came up with two points in two minutes from Ryan McCarthy and were now firmly back in control. This continued when Michael Blaney scored his second free of the game. Aldergrove were now in their groove and two goals in 4 minutes would put 10 points between the teams. The first came from Logan Fleming who collected the ball on the run inside St Galls 20 metre line and drilled his shot low and hard into the net. Aldergrove’s third goal was a joy to watch as Ryan McCarthy caught a long ball under pressure from Oisin Crawford and as he turned he let fly with a fierce strike which went high into the top corner of the St Galls net.
Half time was now fast approaching but there was still enough time for St Galls to get the final score of the half. Niall Fallon found space in what up to now was a water tight defence and under pressure passed the ball to Dara Delaney who put the ball into the net.
As the half time whistle blew it was Aldergrove who would be the happier leaving the pitch with a 3-5 to 1-4 lead.
If St Galls were to have any chance of getting back into the game they knew they would need to come out of the blocks quickly and that they did. With only 2 minutes gone in the second half Connla Maguire picked up the breaking ball and drove towards the Aldergrove goal, his shot was hard and low and as it nestled in the back of the net as a bit of belief came back into the St Galls team.
However it didn’t last long and 3 points in the next 3 minutes two from Michael Blaney and another from Ryan McCarthy would see Aldergrove claim back their 7 point lead.
This game was about to take a dramatic turn as St Galls began their amazing comeback. With only 6 minutes gone in the second half and the score 3-8 to 2-4 St Galls would score 7 points without reply, 2 points apiece from Sean Stewart, Dara Delaney and Eoin Burke and a further point from Niall Fallon, and by the time Dara Delaney put St Galls in front for the first time in the 45th minute no one in the crowd could believe what they had witnessed.
St Galls were not done and continued to push forward with their never say die attitude, this was typified by Dubhlatach Wilson who was instrumental in the St Galls come back with his determination and desire to win every ball that was played into him.
Niall Fallon added another score for St Galls before Aldergroves next attack when Ryan McCarthy found himself one on one with Louis McCormick only this time it was the St Galls keeper who came out on top with a fine save. Michael Blaney added another score to his personal tally before Sean Stewart added another two to his own.
With time running out Michael Blaney was on target to make the score 3-10 to 3-14 in favour of the Milltown men.
For Aldergrove their day was about to get worse as influential forward Ryan McCarthy was forced off with what looked like a serious knee injury.
As injury time approached there were further scores for the Belfast men, one again from the sweet left foot of Sean Stewart and two for the hard working Dubhaltach Wilson.
Aldergrove’s day went from bad to worse as they had two players Red carded in the dying minutes but at this stage St. Gall’s already had matters sewn up and the league title was on its way to Milltown Row.
As the final whistle blew the turnaround was complete. Final score Aldergrove 3-10 St Galls 3-17.
Aldergrove team: Rory McBriar, Aidan Douglas, David Aiken, Lee McCusker, Conor Ferguson, Eoin Gough, Logan Fleming, Eoin Hamill, Aaron O’Connor, Glenn Dunham, Ryan McCarthy, Conlieth O Toole, Conor Adams, Michael Blaney, Daniel Shields. Subs: Aidan Irvine, Cormac McGarry, Ronan Aiken
St Galls Team: Louis McCormick, Adam Churchill, Oisin Crawford, Sean Kelly, Fergus Donnelly, Sean Stewart, Conall McCabe, Eoin Burke, Darragh Ferguson, Conall McGirr, Connla Maguire, Niall Fallon, Dubhaltach Wilson, Dara Delaney, Odhrán McDonald Subs: Aodhan Murray, Peter Devine, Joseph Diamond, Aodh Mullan, Joshua Quinn
Referee: Brtendan Toland (Lamh Dhearg)